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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

A Tax-Free Weekend

2014-08-03 A Tax-Free Weekend

Matthew 14:13-21



Woo hoo it’s Tax-Free Time in Tennessee!

Have you been to Walmart or Target yet?

Of course not; you’re here.

If you had, you’d probably still be in line with the great cornucopia of humanity getting school supplies and jewelry.

It’s like the Boston Tea Party and Shark Week in one.

Jesus take the wheel.

Lord have mercy on the clerks and cashiers.

Not even time for an electronic smoke break.

The managers find them and drag them back in.

No happy places for them, this tax free weekend.

And remember:

The more you spend, the more you save.


In today’s scripture, Jesus needs a quiet place.

The more people he’s saved, the more spent he’s become.

He goes off in a boat by himself.

To his deserted place.

Puts on the noise-cancelling headphones and fires up the Kenny G.

Stares at the sky, smiles at the geese, gazes at the ripples of water curling around his fingertips.


But,they find him.

Crowds of people find him.

The tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse lining the teeming shore.

Tens and twenties.

Then hundreds.

Then thousands.

Maybe some swimming out to him.

Maybe some launching their own boats.

Jumping and waving to get his attention.

“Heal me! Save me! Free me from this taxing life!”

They want to drag him back.

There is no quiet, happy place this weekend for Jesus.


When we think of being tax-free from August first through third, it’s usually sales tax that comes to mind.

A chance to rush out to the big-box stores and stock up our reserves.

We liquidate our assets to shore up our necessities, our supplies, our quasi-educational electronics at 9.25% less than usual and not one penny goes to the government (Hooah!).


But there are other ways of being taxed.

Other taxing burdens come around far more than one weekend a year.

You can spend so much time and energy – even on good things – that at the end of the day you feel taxed out.

Bone-tired, burned-out, beat-up – sometimes even before the day starts.

The alarm goes off and you growl at that hateful little buzzer.

Whatever pantry-full of energy you thought you had, surprise! It’s gone.

Your sub-recommended hours of sleep have not replenished you.

Your last double-roll of strength has been taken and no one thought to replace it or write it on the list, and now you’re stuck.

How very paper-thin are your reserves.


It’s easy to read the Feeding of the Five Thousand like it’s a magic trick by The Amazing Jesus.

He keeps pulling food out the basket like rabbits out of a hat.

Sure, that would be amazing.

Jesus Got Talent.

But this isn’t about what Jesus HAS.

It’s about what he DOESN’T.

And it’s also about what WE don’t have.

It’s about what you don’t have the power or strength to do when you’re taxed out, tapped out, wrung out and left hanging.

It’s what you can still do when you’ve got nothing left to give.


I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals lately.

If you want to see people who are just taxed out, go sit in a hospital.

Everybody looks so tired.

Even the doctors and nurses.

The only perky people are the pharmaceutical sales reps.

They’re like Santa Claus with free samples.

Of course they’re happy.


You might not believe this but hospitals are great places to be alone.

Even if they’re crowded, nobody bothers you.

Probably because they’re afraid you’re contagious.

Everybody’s in their own bubble of burden and they don’t have time or energy to take on anyone else’s.


So, I was over at UT Hospital.

It was lunchtime and I had brought my sandwich.

Thought I’d sneak away for a little “Me Time.”

So I found a bench on the edge of the grounds.

There was a cool summer breeze.

The warmth of the sun caressed my bald spot.

If I closed my eyes, with the white-noise of the HVAC units whirring in the background, it was almost like being at the beach.

I wanted to share the moment.

So I got out my phone and got on Facebook.

I tapped Check In.

Location services placed me at: The Body Farm.

Ah, Dr. Bass, I found your secret!

A more peaceful place you will not find.

And then the phone rang.

And I got a text message.

That’s the problem with the world these days.

You can’t even get quiet at the Body Farm.


Where’s your secret hiding place?

Where do you go to recharge?

Maybe it’s on a boat.

That’s where Jesus went.

Could be your car.

Could be the bathroom or the bathtub.

But if you have small children or a puppy, forget that.

Might be church.

Sunday morning’s about the last hours of the week when you can catch a break.

People apologize to me for sleeping in church.


If that’s what you need, and you can get it in the house of God, good for you.

(Stop poking your husband in the ribs.)


Everything’s always on.

Phones, computers, news.

You start to feel guilty when you’re not always on, too.

But even Jesus needed to find the Off button once in a while.

Because even his energy got overtaxed.


So, five thousand men, which was the Bible’s unit of measure, plus their women, plus their children, storm the beach and call out for Jesus’s care.

He rows ashore.

He has COMPASSION on them, and heals their sick.


Then, after all the remote area medical treatment, it starts getting late.

The disciples come to him and tell him it’s time to send everybody home.

You do not want 5000-plus people getting hungry at the same time.

The disciples have their five loaves and two fish,

but that’s theirs.

Not only are the disciples out of time and out of energy, they also appear to be running low on COMPASSION.

They’re the one-percent and they’ve got their food.

Everybody else needs to go home and get their own.

It’s not fair to over-tax the Haves for the sake of those who haven’t done a thing.

But Jesus says, “You give them something to eat (even if it’s yours, and even if it’s not enough).”


So when you think about it, there’s more than one miracle going on, here.

First, Jesus is feeding the five-thousand-plus.

That’s the miracle everybody remembers.

But there’s another miracle.


The disciples were hanging on to their reserves, weren’t they?

They were saving their loaves and fishes for themselves, because, they were their loaves and their fishes.

Jesus, whose reserves had been all tapped out earlier in the day, Jesus who had gone off for some personal R & R, Jesus tells his disciples to give up even the last little bit of what they had.

Because that taxed-out, tapped out rock bottom is where miracles happen.

When you give up all you have for yourself, is when you learn to feed on COMPASSION.



It’s kind of cliché but I’ve heard it more than once.

Parents who have one kid find out they’re going to have another, and they kind of freak out.

Even if they’ve planned parenthood, they go a little nuts.

“How will we have enough love for two?” (Gag.)

“How will we have enough money for two?”

“How can I be twice as exhausted?”

And then you get those people on TLC with, what, 19 kids and counting?

We’re just tuning in to see if they’re still alive.


It’s not that these multi-children people are superhuman, although a morning in the church nursery will make you wonder.

Whether it’s love, or money, or clothes, or food, multiplying your loaves and fishes isn’t a marvel of magic.

It’s the miracle of compassion.

Even if you’re totally taxed out.

Even if you have no energy.

Even if you have no hope.

The compassion of Jesus Christ can feed the hunger in someone else.


You know, out there by himself, in his boat, Jesus could have gone on communing with God for a long time.

But compassion pulled him back to shore.

Compassion made miracles happen, even when he was exhausted.


The disciples could have taken their loaves and fishes and had a decent meal in their 12-man bubble of a church, celebrating how good Jesus had been in healing so many people, whew, wasn’t that a day!

But Jesus took them one step farther.

He took what little they had left and turned it into compassion.

And look how far it went.


It’s really kind of miraculous how when you feel like you have nothing left to give, one tiny act of compassion multiplies your love.

When you’re hungering and thirsting for a break, doesn’t it feel miraculous when someone shares compassion with you?

Isn’t it amazing how far that one kindness can go?

Isn’t it amazing how it can help you get back up on your feet?


That’s what makes a church a church.

A group of people, sitting around celebrating God’s goodness isn’t a church.

It’s just a twelve-man bubble blown up big.

But even two or three rejoicing in God’s goodness and sharing it out of compassion? Now that’s a church.


So, count the multiplying miracles:

There was the miracle of the feeding. (That’s one.)

There was the miracle of compassion. (That’s two.)

But the final miracle that day was that a group of 5000, or 10,000 men, women, and children got turned into a church.

Whenever we together share Christ’s gift of compassion, God makes and re-makes, re-baptizes, re-forms us into a church once more.


Maybe you feel over-taxed by life.

Maybe you feel just worn out, tired, and used up.

Maybe Jesus did too, once in a while.

Maybe he also yearned for just one weekend, one hour that wasn’t taxing to his soul.

But even then, his compassion was miraculously turned into miracles maybe even he didn’t know he had in him.

What miracles do you have in you?

What miracles do we as a church have in us?